Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Being a Proper Fan

I've written about perspective in the past, but apparently, it's not something that a lot of sports fans use on a regular basis. The fans in Eugene apparently decided they didn't like what the Ducks were doing, and so turned Autzen Stadium into a cascade of boos during the early stages of the game. Never mind it was in the first quarter, fans apparently didn't think the coaches or players were playing well. The Trail Blazers have been on pins and needles until tonight when Greg Oden came back, although the Blazers won their second game on the road versus Miami and have played well without their big center. Yet, for all of a 13 minute career in the NBA, Oden is a bust and another Sam Bowie.

I didn't spend a lot of my days listening to sports radio for the very reasons I noted above. Many sports fans lack the perspective to understand when they have things good, and tend to pile on when things aren't good or they perceive that it's bad. And let's face it, sports radio, newspapers and magazines sell well when they create controversy, even if they have to manufacture it because fans will come out on both sides of a red-button issue. With the day and age of being able to watch most sporting events at any point and get information 24/7, it breeds a certain level of intellect for sports fans but it also breeds a sense of being a know-it-all fan. I don't pretend to know everything about sports, but I know that coaching is a career that I would avoid like the plague. Not because I don't think I could do it, but seriously, to have every move made second and third guessed even with wins and many arm chair folks thinking they could always do better, it's a no win situation. And really, coaches get hired to be fired at some point, because even the best run across a losing streak, a change in direction of the organization, or just simply being tired of the rat race. It's tough to live under that kind of microscope.

And that's nothing to say about the credentials of fans that comment on games or situations within the team, and put in their two cents. Sometimes, fans want their team to be so perfect, it's easy to gloss over the issues and paint a rosy picture about injury problems, young talent, official conspiracies, tough road trips, you name it, it's brought up. Here's a news flash for some folks, most sports are set up to provide a winner and a loser. The only sports that I can think of that don't are soccer, where ties are part of the landscape, and college football, who would rather use a complicated mess of calculations to give the title to somebody rather than have an actual playoff to determine a winner. Teams lose, it's the nature of the game, but it's handling the losses that separate real fans from bandwagon fans.

I tried to come up with criteria to designate a real fan from bandwagon fans, and used home games, television matches, knowing current and historical players, watching your team on the road, and owning merchandise of your team, but I couldn't come up with a formula that made sense. Some folks can't afford ticket plans in today's market, and for me, one of the teams I follow is in England so it's difficult to fly across the pond and see a lot of games. I have Portland Timbers season tickets, an 11 game package for the Portland Trailblazers, I graduated from Gonzaga University and watch their basketball team religiously, I watch the Denver Broncos because of my grandmother's influence and I've been to games in Denver, and West Ham is a team I support because of Clive Charles, my wife, and being able to attend a game in one of the greatest sports venues I've ever seen. I've watched enough games in person and on television that I know my teams, and I get upset when they lose and am happy when they win. I get disappointed when things happen, but knowing the nature of the sports world, I realize that everything is cyclical. Unless you are in Detroit and you are a Lions fan.

The thing is that I support these teams win or lose, and have done so for a very long time. It was tough loving the Trail Blazers during the early 2000's when they were some of the worst personalities in basketball, and didn't care about anybody but themselves. Try getting up enough energy to watch this bunch get drilled night in and night out, while they constantly got in trouble for drugs, drinking, sexual crimes, and other assorted crimes. The bandwagon got really small, but the situation also provided perspective in the sense that it wouldn't always be that way. That's why I never leave a game until the clock is done, even in blowouts. You never know what you might see.

I also understand the importance of the bandwagons, and know the teams for which I'm really a bandwagon fan. It doesn't bug me if the Mariners lose, or the Ducks get into a great bowl game, or if the Beavers will get respect, the thing is whether they win or lose, I have interest in how they do, but it doesn't matter to me at the end of the day. I haven't invested enough to really count them as teams I worship, and I think this has to do with I didn't attend college here so I never made an attachment and I consider the Giants and Padres regional teams like the Mariners, and the Padres have more interest for me because their farm team plays locally in Portland, and I've seen enough games of theirs to know players pretty well.

I also know that sports isn't just sports anymore but it's entertainment, and sports needs to appeal to bandwagon fans much like hardcore fans. Entertainment dollars are tight, so people need to make smart decisions about where they want to spend money, and if they have a good time at an event, they might just come back and if they visit enough, maybe they'll become hard core fans. While it would be nice if every team could simply be supported by hard core fans, it's not an economic reality in a limited income world. I'd love to have season tickets for every sport I follow, but I can only afford the Timbers season tickets, so it's my choice amongst many. I also don't mind the bells and whistles at Trail Blazer games from the dancers to Blaze to stunt teams, because if you want your event to appeal to lots of folks, you give them options for entertainment.

I do find some recent comments about the Blazer dancers not being family entertainment hilarious, though, because a peave of mine is that sporting events shouldn't always be about family entertainment. Not that I am against families, but seriously, appealing to fans of all ages and interests is rather diverse, and if you are worried about protecting your family from jiggling, you may want to protect them from the profanity, rap music, and drunken behaviour that I've seen at some Trail Blazer games. The Blazer Dancers aren't guilty of not being family entertainment, they are guilty of not being very original in their dance moves. Sports fans will use their discretionary income for events, while families tend to spread their spending to various events, taking in a game or two as they can afford it. So if I'm taking direction on what entertainment I'd have at the game, would I choose the family that might take in one game now and then or the fan that will come to games as much as they can.

Look, I wished that some people wouldn't behave like jerks at events and spout off incoherent comments thinking they are clever and annoying a whole section, but I also wish that parents would keep control of their kids to not kick chairs in front of them during a full game, getting up every 5 minutes because they are bored, and then rewarding their kids' behaviour with sugar and candy. Perhaps my beef is more with parenting, but really what my point to this whole mad rambling is this: being a true fan takes perspective and patience, and it's OK if things are bad because they won't be always and it will make the good times that much better. We can all daydream about better days, unlimited money to buy talent, and an arena that can hold millions, but the realities are that cycles happen, money even for rich people is limited, and fans at events aren't all going to be 100 percent passionate or hard core. Until we can have the sports utopia, it's up to all of us to be better fans, whether it's keeping the booing to a more logical time or realizing that one player won't win a title no matter what. It's ok to be frustrated at your team, but it's remembering that there's always a next game and it's up to all of us to provide support in good times and bad. And keeping cotton candy away from kids that kick...

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